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Will Tampa revive Herman Massey Park?

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

It’s easy to overlook Herman Massey Park in downtown Tampa.

It’s modest half-acre size and predilection for having the homeless congregate there in the past has made it appear “dark and foreboding” in the words of City Councilman Harry Cohen.

That may soon change, however,after Councilmembers Frank Reddick and Charlie Miranda recently requested that the downtown Community Redevelopment Agency take a look at what the park needs,with the hope that CRA revenues can pay for those upgrades.

For most Tampa residents who’ve lived in the city for more than a decade, perhaps the only time they’ve even been aware of Herman Massey Park was when former Mayor Pam Iorio ordered the Tampa Police to make arrests of activists feeding the homeless in 2004.

Considered “quaint” after it was built in 1988, the city closed off the half-acre park with a chain-link fence in the summer of 2005 before spending more than $80,000 to renovate it with a rose garden and a wrough-iron fence around the park in 2008. Yet it still remains a place where not that many people congregate.

On Thursday, Rob Rosner,the downtown CRA manager, said while the city already intends to make some modest repairs in the park located on North Franklin Street, there are no major plans beyond that.

Councilman Mike Suarez said that with many more people living downtown than a decade ago, the city might look into making Herman Massey into a dog park, comparing it to Washington Street Park that was built in the Channel District built in 2011.

Bob McDonough, the city’s administrator of economic opportunity, added that he’s had conversations with a couple of developers who see the park as being an amenity for local residents. “Perhaps we can get rid of the fencing,” he said about the current structure.

McDonough said that some of those developments aren’t yet in place, and so he said the prudent thing to do would be to survey the local residents about what type of programming they’d like there.

Jeff Zampitella, the president of the Downtown River Arts Neighborhood Association, said local residents call Herman Massey “the forgotten park.”

“I would love to see us fund a reimagining of this park right away,” he said. 

“The park looks like a jail,” pronounced local resident Gloria Jean Royster, referring to the rough iron fencing that surrounds part of the facility.

“If you take away those gates, it really is a beautiful park and the landscaping is being hidden, ” she said, adding that it would be nice if there could be references to the local history of the area.

Council members waxed nostalgic about what the area was like back in the day, or specifically in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

Cohen recounted how his family owned what was called the State Theatre in the same area before it was burned down in 1984. He said it’s always been considered something of a drag every since.

“The park has always seemed too e very dark and dreary,” he recalled. “It never seems to me to appear to be a place where there’s life and any kind of light.

Councilwoman Yolie Capin said that her and her late husband owned the Uptown Cafe in the early 80’s, which she said was an extremely vibrant area at the time.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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